Birth Date: December 21, 1935 / Age: 80
Birth Place: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Biography: Phillip John Donahue (born December 21, 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio) is the creator and star of The Phil Donahue Show (1969—1996), the first of the syndicated talk shows where the host walks through the audience to let audience members make comments and ask questions. His shows have generally focused on liberal issues, like women's reproductive rights, consumer protection (his most frequent guest was Ralph Nader, for whom he campaigned in 2000), civil rights, and war protests.
In 1953 Phil Donahue was a member of the first graduating class of St. Edward High School, an all boys college prep Catholic high school run by the Brothers of Holy Cross in suburban Lakewood, Ohio.. Donahue graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a B.B.A. in 1957 A year later, he married his first wife, Marge Cooney. They had five children: Michael, Kevin, Daniel, Jim, Maryrose. He divorced Marge in 1975 and married actress Marlo Thomas in 1980.
Donahue began his career in 1957 as a production assistant at college TV and AM station KYW in Cleveland. He got a chance to become announcer one day when the regular announcer failed to show up. After a brief stint as a bank check sorter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he became news director for WABJ radio, Adrian, Michigan, soon after graduating. He moved on to become a stringer for the CBS Evening News and then anchor of the morning newscast at WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio, where his interviews with Jimmy Hoffa and Billy Sol Estes were picked up nationally.
There he hosted Conversation Piece, a phone-in talk show from 1963-67. There he interviewed civil rights activists (including Martin Luther King and Malcolm X) and war dissenters. He moved the format to television with The Phil Donahue Show on WLW-D (now WDTN) in Dayton, Ohio in 1967, and was syndicated two years later. He relocated to Chicago, 1974-85; and then to New York City in 1985.
He received 20 Daytime Emmy Awards; Best Talk Show Host, 1988; the Margaret Sanger Award from Planned Parenthood, 1987; and the Peabody Award, 1980. Despite being the first, he eventually lost ratings to similar but newer shows like Oprah, and his daytime show was cancelled in 1996.
In 2002, Phil Donahue returned to television to host a show called Donahue on MSNBC. Its debut ratings were strong, but its audience evaporated over the following months. In late August 2002, it got one of the lowest possible Nielsen ratings (0.1), less than MSNBC's average for the day of 0.2.
But the show's ratings increased during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq when it was the only politically liberal show on television. The show was so popular that it became MSNBC's top-rated show. However, Donahue's producers say that they were continually pressured to "balance" anti-war voices with an equal number of pro-war voices, and then provide a greater number of pro-war voices. Finally, on February 25, 2003, MSNBC canceled the show, citing low viewership, even though at the time it was still MSNBC's number one show.
Leaked internal memos provided an alternative explanation for the cancellation. One noted that Donahue presented a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war......He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." It worried that the show would be "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."
In an interview on October 28, 2004, Donahue remarked about his MSNBC show's cancellation: "Well, we were the only antiwar voice that had a show, and that, I think, made them very nervous. I mean, from the top down, they were just terrified. We had to have two conservatives on for every liberal. I was counted as two liberals." Asked if he felt mistreated, he responded: "I was isolated, and we were very alone at the end. And then we had nobody supporting us, and our numbers were very decent."